The Habits Of Successful New Web Professionals

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Starting a position in an organization, especially if it is your first in the industry, can be as nerve-wracking as it is exciting. Practices that seem like common sense to those of us who have been in the Web industry for some time might not be as obvious to designers and developers without the benefit of our experience.

Part of our responsibility as veterans in this industry is to mentor new team members and share with them the knowledge that we know they will need to succeed.

The expert in anything was once a beginner.1
As President Rutherford B. Hayes once said, “The expert in anything was once a beginner.” (Image source: opensourceway2)

I recently published an article here on Smashing Magazine titled “Lessons Learned in Leading New Web Professionals3.” As a follow-up to that piece, this one looks at the other side of the team leader-new employee dynamic. We’ll cover the practices that I have found are consistently followed by employees who excel in their new role and grow in this industry.

Embrace The Company’s Culture

Every company is different — with policies, procedures and a culture unique to it. While much attention is given to ensuring that new employees understand these policies and procedures, understanding and embracing the company’s culture is just as important to long-term success. One way to embrace a company’s culture is to get involved — both in and outside the office.

If your company is holding an event or activity for employees, make it a point to attend. It could be a full-blown company party or a small after-hours get-together of only a few employees. Either way, it provides an opportunity to socialize with your new colleagues and begin to build relationships with the people you work alongside.

In the office, look for projects that interest you and that you feel you can contribute positively to. These could be normal client engagements or even side projects driven by small teams in the organization. By asking to be included in these projects, you’ll get time to work hands on with your colleagues and show them the value you bring to the team.

Now, the challenge to participating in these activities is that new employees often feel like outsiders, and many are reluctant to join in on the company’s planned events. The irony, though, is that participating in these company events is one of the best ways to feel like part of the team and to break down that outsider status.

Respect The Client

Complaining about clients is a practice that has been around as long as clients themselves, but it has no place in the Web industry, whether you are a new professional or a seasoned veteran.

Clients can be challenging, but remember that when they stop calling you with questions or with work to be done, that is the day you no longer have a job. We are here because of our clients, not in spite of them.

Does this mean that the client is always right and that you should take whatever they dish out at you with a smile and a nod? Of course not. No one should ever suffer a client who disrespects them professionally or personally, but an abusive client who must be fired is very different from one who simply asks a lot of questions because they recognize that you are the expert. Yes, clients make poor decisions at times, and some of their questions will seem obvious or silly to you, but your answers and advice are why they hired you in the first place.

Respect clients — they keep you employed — and refrain from the bouts of unnecessary complaining that others in the organization might engage in. If others are complaining and trying to rope you in, politely excuse yourself. Nothing good will come of those negative conversations.

Ask Questions

As a new employee, you will undoubtedly have questions — a lot, in fact. That is OK. In fact, it is expected. You might feel like you are bothering others, but asking questions is how you learn and how “tribal knowledge” is passed from veterans in an organization to newcomers.

When you join, a company will likely give you some kind of orientation and show you the ropes, but only so much information can be conveyed in an orientation or in training. So much of what you will need to know is picked up on the job, by actually doing the work itself. When you hit a roadblock, look to others on the team for help. They will often have encountered the issue before and have set a precedent for dealing with it — the aforementioned tribal knowledge. Gaining that knowledge through experience and by asking questions is how you will grow in the organization.

It is OK to ask questions but be sure to try to solve the issue first4
Asking questions enables you to learn and acquire team knowledge, but try to solve problems for yourself first. (Image source: Tim O’Brien5)

Now, there is a balance to be struck. Throwing your hands in the air and yelling “Mayday!” every time you hit a bump in the road is too much. Try to solve a problem for yourself first, so that when you ask for help, you can show the person what you’ve tried so far. Over time, you will find the balance between exploring solutions on your own and asking for a hand.

Teach Me Something

I am constantly reading articles with new tips, techniques and best practices in our industry, and I spend many nights and weekends outside of normal office hours working to master these new techniques. When I discover an article or idea that I think is valuable, I always share it with the rest of my team. And I love it when others on the team return the favor.

When a new employee shares a worthwhile article or an approach that I had not considered, they demonstrate their passion and their dedication to growing in the industry. It also shows that they are willing not only to learn, but also to teach others.

Check Your Work

I appreciate when a team member completes a task quickly, but speed doesn’t trump accuracy. Too often, in an attempt to impress their manager, new team members will race through a task to show how efficient they are. They submit work before really going over it to make sure that all of the tasks have been completed correctly.

Checking your work before submitting it to a manager for review probably sounds like common sense, but it’s one of the biggest problems I hear about from other team leaders and managers. Work that is missing key elements or that has little errors (spelling mistakes are common) or whose functionality hasn’t been fully tested (broken links, forms that do not submit properly, etc.) are major headaches for many team leaders. A manager would rather the person finish the task a bit more slowly if the bulk of the errors could have been caught by a more thorough review.

Before you submit work as being complete, give it a once over to make sure that everything works as intended.

Mind The Clock

Web design is not a 9:00 to 5:00 job. Sometimes, inspiration or a breakthrough strikes at the end of the day. If you punch the clock exactly at 5:00, you could lose any momentum or spark of creativity you may have had, when instead you should nurture the moment. Other times, a deadline is looming that requires extra hours in the office. You need to accept that the day doesn’t always end at 5:00.

It goes both ways, though. An employee who is willing to stay late and put in extra effort when needed will be recognized and appreciated, but don’t stay at your desk 12 hours a day, only to go home and do more work there.

Working late every night will not allow you to properly balance work and life6
Minding the clock means not working late every night. (Image source: abdallahh7)

Minding the clock means balancing your professional and personal time. Don’t burn yourself out by trying to be a superhero who does nothing but work. The most successful colleagues I have worked with over the years have found and maintained a work-life balance.

Work On Your Communication Skills

Responding to questions and requests from clients can be a full-time job. In fact, on some days I feel like all I’ve done is answer emails. Managers want to be able to offload some communication responsibilities to others on the team — but they need to know that the communication will not suffer from a lack of skill.

Whether you are answering questions from clients, presenting design concepts in a meeting or brainstorming with colleagues, communicating your ideas in a way that meets your company’s expectations is important. This skill will increase your value to the team and set you up to take on more responsibility.

Join The Community

The Web community is amazing, and you can participate in it in a number of ways. Depending on where you live, you might have access to meetups, networking events, conferences and other gatherings. We all have opportunities to share our experience, knowledge and passion for this industry.

Participating in these events will make you feel like a part of the Web community, help you make connections with peers and reflect well on your company. With limited time to attend such events, leaders appreciate when other team members take the initiative to get out in the community and represent the company.

Stay Positive

This tip might sound easy to follow, but keeping a positive attitude and demeanor is more challenging than it seems.

As a new team member, you will undoubtedly have times when you are unsure of what to work on next or of how you are performing. This uncertainly can be stressful, and stress can eventually lead to a negative attitude. Fight the urge to give into that negativity — stay positive.

Saying that everything is easier with a positive attitude might sound like an oversimplification, but it’s not. A positive attitude makes challenges easier to face, and it encourages others to come to your aid. After all, no one is excited to work with someone with a negative attitude.

Have Fun

Many years ago, I had an employer who, whenever my job got stressful or challenging, would say, “Well, that’s why we pay you to be here. If it was fun, it wouldn’t be work!”

I don’t agree with this sentiment. Yes, most of us wouldn’t show up for work every day if a pay check wasn’t waiting for us at the end of the week. However, just because we have to work doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy where we work.

The most successful employees I have had the pleasure of working alongside over the years have enjoyed their job and where they work. Life is too short for anything else. So, have fun at your job — and if you can’t, consider getting another.

Staying positive and having fun at your job are two overlooked yet incredibly important elements of success.8
Staying positive and having fun at your job are two overlooked yet incredibly important elements of success. (Image source: opensourceway9)

In Summary

Joining an organization can be stressful. Hopefully, the tips presented here will help you make the most of the opportunity and relieve a bit of the stress. Here are the do’s and don’ts we’ve covered:

  • Do embrace the culture, and participate in company events.
  • Do not let the feeling of being a newbie keep you from participating in events.
  • Do not engage in pointless complaining about clients.
  • Do respect your clients and recognize that they are the reason you have a job.
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions; that’s how you learn.
  • Do try to solve problems on your own before asking for help.
  • Do share helpful or interesting articles that you come across.
  • Do not submit work before having checked it for accuracy.
  • Do strike a balance between your professional and personal time.
  • Do work on your communication skills, and understand what the company expects from your communication with clients.
  • Do look for opportunities to participate in your local Web community.
  • Do stay positive, even when you feel uncertain or stressed out.
  • Do have fun at your job and enjoy where you work.

What About You?

What habits of successful new team members would you add to the list? Feel free to share in the comments below.

(al, ea, il)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/6555466127/
  2. 2 http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/6555466127/
  3. 3 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2013/10/18/lessons-learned-leading-new-web-professionals/
  4. 4 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/questions.jpg
  5. 5 http://www.flickr.com/photos/oberazzi/318947873/sizes/z/in/photostream/
  6. 6 http://www.flickr.com/photos/husseinabdallah/4470248982/sizes/z/in/photostream/
  7. 7 http://www.flickr.com/photos/husseinabdallah/4470248982/sizes/z/in/photostream/
  8. 8 http://www.flickr.com/photos/47691521@N07/5445602868/
  9. 9 http://www.flickr.com/photos/47691521@N07/5445602868/

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Jeremy was born with six toes on each foot. The extra toes were removed before he was a year old, robbing him of any super-powers and ending his crime-fighting career before it even began. Unable to battle the forces of evil, he instead works as the Director of Web Development for the Providence, Rhode Island based Envision Technology Advisors and teaches website design at the University of Rhode Island. His portfolio and blog, at Pumpkin-King.com, is where he writes about all things Web design.

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  1. 1

    This article spoke to me on so many levels. One thing I’ve always done with new hires or even veteran co-workers is share my knowledge with them, and have discussions on new trends and techniques in the business. I find this draws the teams closer together. There’s nothing better than to hear the passion in someone’s voice when they talk about our craft.

    Great article!

    • 2

      I agree with this completely. At an old position I worked for, we would have ‘beer friday’ within the development team. Every Friday we would cut off around 3:30 get some craft beers and talk about new trends/technologies. I think it was a great way to get the team together and help us all improve, learn, and connect.

  2. 3

    This is a fantastic list for any newcomer… The problem with newbies which I see is they spend a lot of time trying to understand how the industry works and getting settled that quite a few years pass by :) This could be a perfect handbook (tips) for the budding professionals… Loved the final list of “Do”s”… I guess that should be handed over to every single new member as a poster :)

  3. 4

    I recently started my first degree-related position with a development firm as a UI/UX designer, so I really appreciate this post.

    My job is a little daunting because I’m the first person they’ve ever hired specifically for design work. I have no peers who specialize in the same work, so it’s pretty clear that finding opportunities to connect with my local web community will be a key to success for me… Especially since the little stuffed Perry the Platypus I keep at my desk doesn’t seem to know much about CSS.
    I also think your point on checking your work is particularly helpful for me to keep in mind because it can be tempting to try and work fast so it looks more like I know what I’m doing (of course, that would probably end up having the opposite effect).

    • 5

      I would also encourage you to try to see if your employer will send you to an occasional web conference. Some of the best relationships I have made in this industry are from people I have meet over breakfast at a conference. Exchanging emails with those fellow designer/developers and keeping in touch with them has been invaluable to my work, especially when I am in a role where, as you mention, I have “no peers who specialize in the same work.”

      • 6

        I liked the last point very much :P

      • 7

        Good idea, are there any in particular you’d recommend?

        • 8

          @ben – It depends on where you are located. I’ve always enjoyed the “An Event Apart” series, but those are only in the US.

          While I’ve never attended one of the “Smashing Conferences”, I have heard excellent things about those (and I hope to get overseas to attend one eventually!).

  4. 9

    I love that you touched on the time. So many people are still fixed in the 9 to 5 mentality, but the truth is, our bodies and minds don’t work that way.

  5. 10

    I have to disagree with the 9 to 5 section. For the most part you would hope that that is true. But as a younger dev, going above and beyond while working, staying late to finish a solution, doesn’t equate to being noticed, or getting extra appreciation, as a young dev managers view that as something that can be ‘capitalized’ upon. As excellent of a culture some web work places can have, people can still equate to just a ‘resource’ to some.

    Every new/young developer (in terms of their career) I’ve worked with I’ve seen put that excitement into that work, and have seen all of them be approached to do extra work, out side of their scope, and often not fair to their pay grade. The bigger piece of advice I give is to value your time, and make it clear that you value it. That doesn’t mean you should leave every day at 5 by any means, but the most important part of finding that balance is to ensure that you won’t let yourself be taken advantage of.

  6. 11

    I have to disagree with the 9 to 5 section. For the most part you would hope that that is true. But as a younger dev, going above and beyond while working, staying late to finish a solution, doesn’t equate to being noticed, or getting extra appreciation, as a young dev managers view that as something that can be ‘capitalized’ upon. As excellent of a culture some web work places can have, people can still equate to just a ‘resource’ to some.

    Every new/young developer (in terms of their career) I’ve worked with I’ve seen put that excitement into that work, and have seen all of them be approached to do extra work, out side of their scope, and often not fair to their pay grade. The bigger piece of advice I give is to value your time, and make it clear that you value it. That doesn’t mean you should leave every day at 5 by any means, but the most important part of finding that balance is to ensure that you won’t let yourself be taken advantage of.

    Awesome article though.

    • 12

      That’s typical of todays generation. Want to be at the top without doing the hard slog first.

      My advice; do what ever it takes to develop your skills, and the opportunities will eventually come. If that means working extra hours, work outside of your “scope”, at the same pay rate, so be it. It will make you a better person for it.

    • 13

      I think this problem is more an issue of a crappy place to work or a bad manager, not reflective of the industry as a whole. I’ve certainly seen some organizations where this may be the case, but I’ve also seen, and been fortunate enough to work at, others where going above and beyond is absolutely recognized and appreciated, no matter how new to the team or the industry you are.

      In regards to your last point – I agree that you don’t want to be taken advantage of, but as someone new to the industry or to a company, almost anything asked of you will be “not fair to your pay grade.” That is how you grow and how your managers realize that you are indeed ready for bigger challenges and more responsibility.

  7. 14

    What a great article! It’s exactly what I wanted to read as I have just started a job after graduating University and being a freelancer for years. I am learning a lot and the web team is great here but going from getting a first at University to being the newbie can feel rather alien at times. Thank you for this article as it has reminded me that positivity > all and you highlighted a mistake I have made! Trying to get things done quickly instead of going over them slowly and making sure everything is accurate, It is all obvious stuff but the reminder is useful.

  8. 15

    Thanks for the article I am moving Saturday and starting a new job as a front-end web developer on Wednesday. I have done freelance work up until this amazing opportunity. I am excited, anxious, happy, sad and a little nervous lol. It’s nice to know that everyone was new at one time.

    • 16

      Best of luck as you move from that freelance setting to your new position. I hope this article is helpful as you make that transition, but I will also add one other note that I find is helpful for new designers/developers coming from a freelance environment (as opposed to fresh out of school).

      Remember that you have a team alongside you now. Responsibilities that, in the past, may have fallen squarely on your shoulders because you were a team of one can now be shared by the group. It sounds awesome, and it can be, but there is definitely an adjustment from being a freelancer who “does it all” on a project to a team member that contributes just one piece of the larger whole.

  9. 17

    Jeremy-

    Abso-freaking-lutely amazing article that succinctly puts what seems to be the most important aspects of new hire adoption into perspective. I find it (hopefully fortuitous) that you bring up this topic at a point in my life where I am looking to make a similar transition, and will undoubtedly go through these same issues.

    I felt reassured that the notes and “to-do’s” were right in line with the course of action I felt I should take; be positive, be enthusiastic, get involved, be open to learn, be willing to teach, respect the customer (they’re why you’re employed!).

    I can sympathize with Ben having to deal with being hired for your skills and then having absolutely no one to bounce ideas off of; you’re left to your own devices, and that CAN be daunting. In fact, I hope that such future opportunities plant me squarely in a collaborative team that not only can show me the ropes and teach me many things, but I honestly hope I will be able to reliably contribute back as well.

    Also, @Sean. Congrats buddy! You’re living the dream. Best of luck to ya!

    • 18

      Happy you enjoyed the article and found it helpful – and best of luck with any transition you decide to make!

  10. 19

    Check your work, check it again.. speak up if you have a question no matter how dumb YOU think it is.. Check your work again.. Grow a thick skin and don’t take feedback personally… Check your friggin work! Any questions?

    • 20

      I have rushed through developing applications before and in the end I looked stupid when I submited it to my boss. I have learnt my lessons the hard way.

  11. 21

    Awesome article Jeremy. It really is a eye opener. Btw, did you really have extra toes on each foot? haha

    • 22

      I absolutely did. While it would’ve been interesting had my Mom decided to let me keep them, it would be impossible to find shoes wide enough had she not had them removed when I was a baby!

  12. 23

    IMHO, One secret ingredient or lets say a habit for a web pro is to communicate (clearly). It’s often overlooked. Its the bridge to work well between teams and clients. No matter how good or bad you are if you know how to communicate you can connect to others. And just to add a bonus – sense of humor :)

    • 24

      I agree with you about striving to communicate clearly – in fact, working on your communication skills is actually one of the topics I covered in the article.

  13. 25

    Great article, I couldn’t agree more! If only I’d read this article 6 or 7 years ago when I was starting out.

    I think the balance between professional and personal time is super important! It’s very easy to become overburdened if you start bringing your work home with you.

  14. 26

    I find this article really great. I’m about to team up on a project for the first time as and even though it’s just a single project and not a company job, I think this will help me work fine with my colleagues on this. I’m still much of a freelancer and I’m hoping the other parts of this article will stand as a guide till I commit fully to a company.

  15. 27

    Never thought of this good response of my first coding tutorial. Thank you guys
    The reason of using marque tool instead of slicing tool is to not make the slicing part complicated for beginners.

    @Bertrand: Thanks man, you cleared some points before I read them :)

    @Pepa: I have seen some of my friends working with Fireworks but I never gave it a try for web design.

    @Kelley: You got solid points with slicing in Photoshop. The reason of using marque tool here is already mentioned.http://proresult.in

  16. 28

    Excellent article. It is very easy to adopt a negative attitude when you feel insecure, and it will completely kill your passion and enthusiasm when you are a new hire and need it the most. It can feel amazing to be surrounded by passionate individuals striving to make the best team possible and downright awful and confusing when it seems like nobody around you cares about you or the company they work for.

    I’ve experienced this first hand and can say that I was as much to blame for my negativity as the management that allowed it. I felt left out and ignored by the people I hoped would welcome me and teach me how to become a great worker, and made it far too easy to become defensive and spiteful about my performance. Luckily, I recognized that I was doing nothing to improve that environment and made the call to excuse myself.

    As it turns out, I was the first of many people to exit the premises and that experience made me realize that great attitudes aren’t just something to be expected from workers, they are built and maintained from management all the way down to the bottom rungs.

  17. 29

    Good article ! For me job is sometime stressfull but I want to enjoy it as well. Many of my ancient coworker was very negative… I try to stay positive all the time (in my life or my job) but it’s difficult to work with people who insult clients many times a day. What about an article “how to guide people in a positive way ?” :)

    Communication is the key but sometimes it’s seems to me impossible to have a decontracted and positive atmosphere with some people.

    • 30

      The best way to guide people is through your own actions. A negative attitude can spread, but so can a positive outlook – so stay positive and, in time, others will follow your lead.

  18. 31

    Great Article!

  19. 32

    Thanks for writing this article! I’m starting out new and wrapping up my first freelance project, so I’ll save this for the future when I join a firm.

    Working on this project has its ups and downs, but a positive attitude – and even some time to step away from a project for a while – has helped a lot more than a cynical attitude.

    A difference between web design and my previous job is that I look forward to doing the work and don’t mind working on weekends or reading tutorials/articles like this. I hope as I learn new skills, I can make this into a career and pass on knowledge to the next generation.

    I loved the comments section idea of having a weekly chat about industry trends and technologies. Sounds like a great way to incorporate into the company culture and have the group learn at the same time. I bet great ideas can come from these chats.

    Sorry your superhero career was cut short, but thanks for the article, Jeremy!

  20. 33

    Thank you Jeremy for this article. In our Logo Design Team with 120+ designers it is crucial to ensure that all designers both old and new are efficient team players contributing to the whole company. With your useful tips it will be easier from now on to mentor our new employees.

  21. 34

    What has this got to do with web professionals? Everything you’ve written here could easily be applied to the vast majority of industries.

    Of course, some of the advice only works if you have time to spare (going to office parties, staying after 5pm etc) but some good snippets nonetheless.

    • 35

      In regards to your comment about this advice only working “if you have the time to spare” is interesting. Yes, you need to make time for some of these practices, but in my experience, those new team members that DO make the time are the ones that end up integrating best into their new companies and being most successful in their roles.

      I think that you will find that if you don’t make the time for these activities, at least occasionally, the others in your organization that do make the time will be the ones who grow with that organization and in their career.

      What you put in, is what you will get out.

  22. 36

    Your points are very correct. I have noticed many people keep silent even if they have doubts. If you have doubts, you must ask. Otherwise you will do mistakes and loose your and others time

  23. 37

    Just a lot of common-sense really, isn’t it? Dressed up as professional advice.

    I really, really miss the Smashing Magazine of old, which was of great PRACTICAL benefit to web designers, without all of this business seminar horsemanure.

    Sorry.

    • 38

      As I mention at the start of the article, “Practices that seem like common sense to those of us who have been in the Web industry for some time might not be as obvious to designers and developers without the benefit of our experience.”

      Yes, the points covered in this article should be well known to industry veterans, but as someone who routinely welcomes new web designers/developers onto a team, and who teaches these new web professionals in the classroom, these “common sense” lessons are oftentimes exactly what they are missing.

      The Web industry is about more than just the latest CSS tricks or other techniques that may be what you consider “practical.” The Web is a business, and article about those aspects of our profession are as relevant and necessary as the technical bits are.

      • 39

        I’m probably looking at it all with the jaded eyes of a long time veteran… if the article benefits anybody, especially the new school, then who am I to complain? :) Sorry if I appeared rude…

  24. 40

    Excellent post, especially the summary bullets at the end. Managing communication seems to be a big one, since a lot of designers I’ve known seem to fall on the more quiet side of the spectrum.

  25. 41

    Great article!

    I would like to add few tips from my point of view, guy who have first time job in good company (before I worked in few poor), his first language is different than company but have quite good skills and freelance experience.

    I think very useful is to set up some aims to achieve. For example find out what skill or technique is missing in company and learn it or become an expert in some field. This will help you be valuable part of team.

    Second important thing is to not afraid. Believe you are there because you are good and have talent. They chosen you, not other candidate from some reason and its not your nice eyes. This allow you to stay positive and give motivation to work and things mentioned in article.

    Enyoj that you work with great people in proffesional company and learn form them, not everyone have luck to work in nice company with passionate experts. If you work in poor company still lear what you can also what not to do.

    I have to also agree that communication skills are very important. My english is not very well (I work in UK) and I understand how difficult can be explain some things, only because I have some communication skills other than language I can successfully deal with clients and team members even if often I sounds funny

    • 42

      All excellent points. Thanks for sharing your insights and advice, it is great to hear from someone at the early point in their career and learn a little bit about their thoughts on this topic.

  26. 43

    Ive been in this industry for 3+ years but still after reading this article felt like I am a newbee..One thing I feel is to believe that a solution exists for every problem before takling the problem would make your path very easy and less stressful. And also the right attitude towards your company and work matters a lot.

  27. 44

    Pretty good advice there, but seems to be quite generic and can apply to many lines of work/industries. The 9 to 5 thing depends on individual circumstances. Family commitments mean I can rarely stay at work past 5pm, but I can do some more research/practicing at home in the evenings.

  28. 45

    Someone had mentioned it above, but anyway, informal meetings with your coworkers are the best way for new guys to feel like a part of the team. I used to start with few other guys at the same time last September. There was a very strange atmosphere in the office until we started our regular “Friday outings” (normally a lunch in a pub).

  29. 46

    Very nice article!!! It could be very useful for newcomers. Perfect and focused to the point sort of ideas. Thank you so much.

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